(Update: Michigan State downed the Seminoles, 65-49.)
After two years of tough road tests against ACC blue bloods, the Michigan State Spartans finally return home to the friendly confienes of the Breslin Center to host an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game as they prepare for a visit from the Florida State Seminoles.
Following a nice run last March, the Seminoles began 2011 ranked in the top 25 and were viewed as a dark horse to give Duke and North Carolina a challenge in the ACC, but enter tonight’s game scuffling a bit following an unexpected loss to Harvard and an overtime defeat against Connecticut. The Spartans, meanwhile, have rebounded nicely from two early season defeats by winning four in a row against average competition. This game pits two teams in similar positions against one another, and is a swing game that the Big Ten will need to claim in order to stay above water in the challenge.
Here’s how either school can emerge with another point for their conference tonight:
How Michigan State Wins: Keep defending like dogs.
Even in their two losses, the signs have to be encouraging for Tom Izzo on the defensive end, as the Spartans have defended incredibly well this season. Through the first six games this year, the Spartans rank fourth in the nation in defensive efficiency. Opponents are only averaging 54 points against Michigan State, which rates 11th nationally. Best yet, the Spartans have limited their opponents to 36% shooting from the floor, which rates fifth in the country. Florida State, with plenty of athleticism and good shooting, should provide the Spartans with a nice test to these solid numbers. Michigan State must lock down two Florida State stars. First, they need to limit guard Michael Snaer, who went off for 20 points against Connecticut. They will also need to control Bernard James in the middle, who contributed 11 points with 14 key rebounds in the losing effort against the Huskies.
How Florida State Wins: Push the tempo early with a hot start, scrap for rebounds and force the Spartans to come back.
Though the Spartan teams’ personalties are vastly different, 2010 showed opponents how to win in the Breslin Center. When teams were able to survive the first 10 minutes of the game, score and then push the pace, Michigan State didn’t just lose on their home floor last season, they were often blown out. Florida State will want to try and duplicate this feat. That means hitting plenty of shots early, including three pointers. The Seminoles must also grab plenty of rebounds, which won’t be easy considering the Spartans are third in the nation in rebounding while Florida State rates 36th. If Florida State can hang around early, extend a lead and put pressure on a sometimes woeful Michigan State offense to come back in the second half, they will be in great shape.
The X-Factor: Adreian Payne.
The Spartan center was an important contributor against Eastern Michigan, scoring 12 points while contributing eight rebounds in 16 minutes. Michigan State will need a similar effort out of the 6-10 Payne against Florida State, as the Seminoles are jam packed with big bodies on the interior. Payne was a ghost offensively in the team’s last big ACC game against Duke, only tallying two points in 26 minutes. If the Spartans can get an effort similar to Payne’s performance against Eastern Michigan tonight (perhaps 10 points and 12 rebounds) they will be tough for Florida State to beat. Payne’s physical presence could also counter that of a Bernard James should he be ready and able to step up.
Intangibles: Michigan State coming back home in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge with something to prove.
For two years, the rallying cry of many Spartans has been “if they’d just let us play a quality ACC opponent at home, we’d show them what we can really do!” Tonight, Michigan State gets to test that notion, as they host their first ACC-Big Ten Challenge game since 2007′s victory over North Carolina State. In this event, the Spartans typically play better at home anyway, winning the last two true home games they have played. Michigan State will want to help the Big Ten along in the challenge by winning, but they will also want to save their own face after narrowly losing to both North Carolina and Duke early in the season. This should provide an extra bounce in the Spartan sneakers as they hit the floor tonight.
Prediction: The Spartans are trending upwards right now after shaking off an 0-2 start. They will be pushed to the limit by Florida State’s athletiscsm and scoring, but will defend and rebound well enough to pull out a win. The home environment counts for something, as Big Ten home teams were 2-1 on the first day of the challenge. An excited Breslin Center crowd helps will the Spartans to a hard fought victory over a talented Florida State team that might end up finishing 2012 better than they started 2011.
Michigan State 74, Florida State 66